This COLA is a permanent annual increase to your retirement benefit. It is based on the cost-of-living index and is designed to address inflation.
How Cost-of-Living Adjustment is Determined
COLA payments are based on the rate of inflation, as reflected in the consumer price index published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The law requires that COLA payments be calculated based on 50 percent of the annual rate of inflation, measured at the end of the fiscal year (on March 31st). In addition, the COLA cannot be less than 1 percent or greater than 3 percent of your benefit.
The COLA adjustment is applied to the first $18,000 of your benefit calculated as a Single Life Allowance, even if you selected a different pension payment option. Once your COLA payments begin, you will automatically receive an increase to your monthly benefit each September.
The September 2021 COLA equals 1.4 percent, for a maximum annual increase of $252.00, or $21.00 per month before taxes.
When Will You See the Increase?
Eligible retirees will see the first 2021 COLA payment in their September pension payment. It will be available to those with direct deposit on September 30, 2021. If you receive a paper check, the COLA will be included in the check mailed on September 29, 2021.
You can sign in to your Retirement Online account to view a current breakdown of your pension payment. If you have direct deposit and are eligible for a COLA increase, you will receive notification of the net change in your monthly payment amount in September.
If you are not eligible for a COLA yet, you will receive your first increase in the month after you become eligible. This payment will include a prorated amount to cover the month you became eligible. After that, you will receive a COLA increase each September.
Under normal circumstances, NYSLRS won’t release your benefit information – even to close family members – without your permission. However, if we have an approved copy of your power of attorney (POA) form on record, we can discuss your information with the person you named as your agent in your POA.
For example, your agent could ask for details about your pension payments, get help completing a loan application or call us for clarification if you don’t understand a letter you received.
Your agent could be your spouse, another family member or a trusted friend. You may designate more than one person as your agent, and you may authorize those agents to act together or separately. You may also designate “successor agents” to act on your behalf if the primary agent is unable or unwilling to serve.
A POA form may be filed with NYSLRS at any time, so there’s no need to wait until a “life event” happens to file. With a POA already on record, the designated agent can act immediately in case of emergency, hospitalization or unexpected illness.
What Can Agents Do?
The agent named in your POA is authorized to act on your behalf and conduct business with NYSLRS for you.
Agents can file applications and forms, such as service or disability retirement applications. They can get account-specific benefit information, request copies of retirement documents, update addresses and phone numbers, and take out loans. For retirees, agents can change the amount withheld from your pension for taxes.
If you use the NYSLRS POA form, and your agent or successor agent is your spouse, domestic partner, parent or child, they have “self-gifting authority.” That means they can designate themselves as a beneficiary of your pension benefits or, if you are not yet retired, choose a retirement payment option that provides for a beneficiary after your death and designate themselves as a beneficiary for that benefit.
If your agent or successor agent is not your spouse, domestic partner, parent or child, they do not automatically have self-gifting authority. If you want them to be able to designate themselves as beneficiaries, you should indicate that in the Modifications section of the POA. You should identify your agent by name and specify the authority you want granted to them.
It’s important to note that the NYSLRS POA form only covers Retirement System transactions. It does not authorize an agent to make health care decisions or changes to a Deferred Compensation plan.
Changes to the POA Law
The law governing POA requirements was changed effective June 13, 2021. Any POA executed since that date must comply with the new requirements (the NYSLRS form complies with the new requirements):
All POAs must be signed by two disinterested witnesses (witnesses who are not listed as an agent in the POA or named in the POA as a person who can receive gifts).
The use of a Statutory Gift Rider to grant gifting authority has been eliminated. If you do not use the NYSLRS POA form and instead submit a separately prepared Statutory POA form, gifting authority, even for a close family member, must be granted in the Modifications section of the POA. (See our Power of Attorney page for details.)
If you have an approved POA on file with NYSLRS, you do not need to send a new one. POAs executed before June 13, 2021, will be reviewed in accordance with the laws in effect at the time. POAs executed on or after June 13, 2021, that use an old POA form or do not comply with other requirements of the new law will not be valid.
You can also mail your POA (original or photocopy). You may wish to mail it certified mail, return-receipt requested, so you know when NYSLRS receives it. Mail it to:
NYSLRS 110 State Street Albany, NY 12244-0001.
Find Out More
A power of attorney is a powerful document. Once you appoint someone, that person may act on your behalf with or without your consent. We strongly urge you to consult an attorney before you execute this document.
You may revoke your POA at any time by sending us a signed, notarized statement.
For certain business transactions, such as getting a mortgage, you may need to verify certain NYSLRS account or benefit information. Fortunately, Retirement Online allows members and retirees to access and print a mortgage or pension verification letter in a few quick steps.
Members Can Generate Mortgage Letters Online
Members still on the public payroll can generate a mortgage verification letter using Retirement Online. On your account homepage, in the ‘I want to…’ section, click the “Generate Mortgage Verification Letter” link.
The printable letter will show your account summary, including the current balance of your contributions, and if you have a loan, the date of your last loan and current loan balance.
You can also request an account verification letter using our secure contact form. Tell us what information you need and be sure to include your personal identification and contact information when you submit the form. In most cases, we’ll mail you a letter within five to seven business days.
How Retirees Can Get a Pension Verification Letter
As a retiree, you may need a letter verifying your pension income — maybe for housing or as part of an application for the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP). There are four ways to get a pension verification letter.
Retirement Online is the fastest way to get a pension verification letter. On your account homepage, in the ‘I want to…’ section, click the “Generate Income Verification Letter” link.
A pop-up box with a confirmation message will appear. Once you click OK, your pension income verification letter will open in a new browser tab, ready for you to print or save.
You can send us your request using our secure contact form. Tell us what information you need, and be sure to include your daytime phone number, in case our customer service representatives have a question. In most cases, we’ll mail your letter in five to seven business days.
You can call us with your request at 866-805-0990 (518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area). Our Call Center is open Monday through Friday, 7:30 am – 5:00 pm. We usually mail letters in five to seven business days.
You can also fax your request to 518-473-5590. Include your retirement or registration number, current address, signature and phone number in case we have questions. Tell us whether you want the letter mailed or faxed to you (provide a fax number).
Sending a Retiree Pension Verification Letter to a Third Party
At your request, we can send a letter verifying your pension income directly to a lending institution, housing authority, nursing home or other third party. However, because this information is confidential, we need your signed written permission.
If you decide you want us to send a letter to a third party, they must fax us a request and include a signed release from you giving us permission to release your information.
The form has two parts: The first section is for the person reporting the death to enter information about themselves. They should be sure to include a phone number in case we need to contact them. In the second part, they should enter information about the deceased member or retiree. If they know the deceased’s NYSLRS ID or the last four digits of their Social Security number, they should enter that too.
Survivors can upload a photocopy of the death certificate so NYSLRS can begin identifying any benefits that may be payable. (Note: we will still need an original death certificate before any benefits are paid – see below.) The form is transmitted over a secure network.
Survivors can also report a death by calling our toll-free number at 1-866-805-0990 (or 518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area), weekdays from 7:30 am to 5:00 pm. Once they reach the call menu, they should press 3, then 1. The call will be transferred to a customer service representative, who will ask for:
The deceased’s NYSLRS ID, retirement or registration number or Social Security number.
The date of death.
We may also ask for the addresses and phone numbers of immediate family members who may be beneficiaries. Please note: Our customer service representatives cannot release the identities of a member’s or retiree’s beneficiaries over the phone.
Mailing a Death Certificate
Before any death benefits can be processed or paid, NYSLRS will need an original, certified death certificate, even if a photocopy has already been submitted. The death certificate (and the sender’s contact information) should be mailed to:
NYSLRS Attn: Survivor Services 110 State St Albany, NY 12244
We recommend that death certificates be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested.
What Happens Next
Once we receive the death certificate, we will send named beneficiaries or their certified representatives (guardians, powers of attorney, executors) information about death benefits and, if applicable, information about any continuing pension benefits and death benefits that may be payable based on the member or retiree’s tier and retirement plan. We will also send named beneficiaries the appropriate forms to complete.
It could take several months from the date we are notified of a death to the date that any death benefit is paid. This is the average time necessary to recover any pension payments made after the retiree’s death and calculate any death benefit that may be due, as well as receive a certified copy of the death certificate, tax withholding forms and notarized forms from the named beneficiaries. Our top priority is paying a continuing pension benefit as soon as possible.
If a member is retired when he or she dies, we will stop payment of any outgoing pension benefits. We will automatically reclaim any direct deposit payments that went out after a member’s death. Survivors should be aware that any uncashed pension checks in a deceased retiree’s name must be returned to us.
Talk to Your Loved Ones
If you’re a NYSLRS member or retiree, you should talk to your loved ones and provide them with the information they’ll need when the time comes. Let them know your wishes, where to find important papers and what steps they will need to take. And if your documents are organized and accessible, it will make things that much easier.
Normally, most NYSLRS retirees who return to work for a public employer face an earnings limit. Under Section 212 of the Retirement and Social Security Law, most NYSLRS retirees under age 65 who return to work for a public employer can earn up to $35,000 per calendar year without penalty. If a retiree exceeds the earnings limit and continues to work, their pension benefits are suspended for the remainder of the year.
The limit had been temporarily suspended by the Governor by executive order during the COVID-19 emergency. The executive order suspending the limit has been rescinded effective June 25, 2021.
Pay from a public employer earned from March 27, 2020 through December 31, 2020 will not count toward a retiree’s annual earnings limit.
Pay from a public employer earned January 1, 2021 through June 24, 2021 will not count toward a retiree’s annual earnings limit.
Pay from a public employer earned June 25, 2021 through December 31, 2021 will count toward the limit.
Retroactive payments are lump sum payments you receive from your employer. These payments can be from new union contracts, arbitration awards or legal settlements that took place while you were on your employer’s payroll.
If you receive a retroactive payment from your employer, it could affect your pension benefit calculation.
How Retroactive Payments Can Affect Your Benefit
Your final average earnings (FAE) are a major factor in your pension benefit calculation. It’s the average of your three (five for Tier 6 members) highest consecutive years of earnings. For most people, their highest years of earnings come at the end of their careers.
Retroactive payments are applied to the pay periods when they were earned, not when they were paid. So, retroactive payments can increase your FAE, and therefore your pension benefit, as long as the time period in which you earned that money is part of the time period your FAE is based on.
Your employer should let us know if you receive a retroactive payment before or after you retire. If you are a State employee who receives a retroactive payment after you retire, we will recalculate your pension automatically; you do not need to notify us. You will receive correspondence from us explaining any change in your pension benefit.
If you receive a retroactive payment from a non-State employer after your pension calculation is finalized, send a letter to our Recalculation Unit in the Benefit Calculations & Disbursement Services Bureau. Please include a copy of your check stub and any correspondence you received from your employer related to the payment. Mail it to:
Attn: BCDS – Recalculation Unit
110 State Street
Albany, NY 12244-0001.
You can also email and upload this information to the Retirement System through our secure contact form.
April is Financial Literacy Month. But what is financial literacy? Basically, it’s the ability to understand and use financial skills to make wise decisions about your finances.
Financial literacy encompasses a variety of skills, but we’d like to focus on some basic skills that are relevant to planning for a successful retirement. Whether you’re just starting your career, planning on retiring soon or already retired, mastering these skills will help you and your future financial security.
Taking Stock of Your Finances
A good place to start building your financial literacy is by getting a handle on your current financial situation. Ask yourself some basic questions:
How much do you earn and spend each month?
How much debt do you have?
Do you have any major expenses on the horizon?
If you know where you stand, you’ll be in a better position to plan for the future.
Interest is great if you’re on the receiving end, but not so great if you are paying it. Unfortunately, consumers can pay very high interest rates on credit. The average interest rate on a new credit card account is nearly 18 percent, and many consumers pay 20 percent or more on their credit cards.
If you have credit card debt, and only pay the minimum each month, you’ll make little progress on reducing the balance while the interest you pay every month adds up. For example, if you owed $1,000 on a credit card with an 18 percent interest rate, and made payments of $40 a month, it would take you 71 months to pay off and your total interest cost would be nearly $500. On the other hand, if you paid $100 a month, it would be paid off in half the time and your total interest would be about $160.
Debt is not necessarily bad, but it can easily derail your financial plans if you’re not careful. Credit cards pose a particular risk because they are so easy to use, but you can learn strategies to avoid credit card debt.
As a NYSLRS member, you’ll receive a lifetime pension that will be based on your years of service and earnings. But your personal retirement savings can be an important supplement to your pension and Social Security. It’s never too early or too late to start saving for retirement. To learn more building your savings, read our recent blog post Saving for Retirement. Is Now the Right Time?
Follow our blog for future posts on retirement savings and related topics.
NYSLRS retirees tend to stay in New York, where their pensions are exempt from State and local income taxes. In fact, 79 percent of NYSLRS 487,407 retirees and beneficiaries lived in the State as of March 31, 2020. And half of them lived in just ten of New York’s 62 counties.
So where in New York do these retirees call home? Well, there are a lot of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries on Long Island. Suffolk and Nassau counties are home to more than 61,000 recipients of NYSLRS retirement benefits, with annual pension payments exceeding $2 billion. But that shouldn’t be surprising. Suffolk and Nassau counties are the largest and third largest counties in the State outside of New York City by population. (The City, which has its own retirement systems for municipal employees, police and firefighters, had 23,700 NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries.)
Erie County, which includes Buffalo, ranks number two among counties in the number of NYSLRS retirees, with more than 32,000. Albany County, home to the State capital, ranked fourth with close to 20,000. Monroe, Westchester, Onondaga, Saratoga, Oneida and Dutchess counties round out the top ten.
All told, NYSLRS retirees received $5.9 billion in retirement benefits in the top ten counties, and $10.8 billion statewide.
Hamilton County had the fewest NYSLRS benefit recipients. But in this sparsely populated county in the heart of the Adirondacks, those 499 retirees represent nearly 11 percent of the county population. During fiscal year 2019-2020, $10.8 million in NYSLRS retirement benefits was paid to Hamilton County residents.
Outside of New York, Florida remained the top choice for NYSLRS retirees, with more than 38,000 benefit recipients. North Carolina (9,413), New Jersey (7,893) and South Carolina (6,457) were also popular. There were 639 NYSLRS recipients living outside the United States as of March 31, 2020.
More than 95 percent of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries receive their pension payments by Direct Deposit. Their pension payments arrive directly into their bank accounts on the last business day of every month.
If you need to update your bank account information or change your direct deposit, here’s what you need to know.
Changing Your Account or Bank
If you change banks, or want your payments to go into a different account in the same bank, complete and submit a new Direct Deposit Enrollment Application (RS6370). Remember, if you want your payments to go into a savings account, or if you don’t have a voided check, a bank official will need to complete Section 3 of the form.
If you are just changing accounts in the same bank, you can have the bank fax the information to 518-473-5323. The fax should be on bank letterhead and include:
Your retirement number, registration number or NYSLRS ID;
Both the old and new routing and account numbers; and
A bank representative’s signature.
Please wait for confirmation of your direct deposit change before closing your old bank account to avoid a delay in your payment.
Changing Your Payment Preference
If for some reason you need to cancel direct deposit, send us a letter saying you prefer to have a check mailed to you instead. Include your name, address, retirement number or NYSLRS ID, and signature.
You can fax the letter to 518-473-5323, or mail it to:
NYSLRS Attn: Direct Deposit 110 State Street Albany, NY 12244-0001
Sign Up for Direct Deposit
Direct deposit has always been a safe, convenient way to get your pension payment. Now, with the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, it makes even more sense. If you’re still getting your pension payment by check, you can sign up today by completing and submitting a Direct Deposit Enrollment Application (RS6370).
If you’re planning on using Retirement Online to file your retirement application, please remember to sign up for direct deposit as part of your retirement process.
NYSLRS’ Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), published each fall, has a wealth of information about the Retirement System. Much of it is technical, and it crunches a lot of numbers, but it’s also a good place to learn about NYSLRS retirees.
Here are a few tidbits from the latest edition, which includes data from the State fiscal year that ended March 31, 2020.
NYSLRS Retirees by the Numbers
NYSLRS was providing pension benefits to 487,407 retirees and beneficiaries as of the end of the fiscal year.
Nearly 79 percent of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries — some 384,286 — live right here in New York State, and they can be found in every county. Long Island is home to more than 60,000 retirees and beneficiaries, while more than 50,000 live in the Capital District.
Our retirees can also be found in every state. Florida, not surprisingly, is the number two choice — more than 38,000 call the Sunshine State home. North Dakota has the least, with only 21 retirees and beneficiaries. Another 639 live outside the United States.
NYSLRS Pensions at Work
In the last fiscal year, NYSLRS paid out $13.4 billion in benefits to retirees and beneficiaries, including $10.8 billion in New York State.
These retirees live in our communities, and their pension money flows right back into our neighborhoods. Retirees in New York pay local property and sales taxes, and their spending supports local businesses, stimulates the economy and generates thousands of jobs. Learn more.
An Award-Winning Publication
NYSLRS has received a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the CAFR for the last 16 years. It’s a national award recognizing excellence in the preparation of state and local government financial reports.
To find out more about retirees, members and NYSLRS’ investments, check out the latest CAFR on our website.